this is what the living do

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Johnny,

I have become a person who people send sympathy cards to, someone people want to nurture with food, chocolate, flowers and kind messages. People hug me when they see me, and ask how I am. Most of the time I have no idea.

I’m wearing your pj bottoms as I write, and drinking tea from one of your cups. The pile of your newly washed, and neatly folded clothes sits on my bed and asks me what are you going to do with us now? I don’t know, that’s why I tried on the pj bottoms. I had to roll the waist because you were taller than I am. Were, I have to get used to speaking of you in the past tense.

We’ve been speaking of you in the past tense for two weeks, two weeks tomorrow, Saturday at 4pm. I’m still getting used to that.

I also wear your wedding ring, the one that dad left you after he died. It’s on my thumb. I play with it constantly, twisting it, rubbing it. I think about you and dad, and how I ended up older than either of you, and wonder if wearing this ring is a good idea or not.

I think you would like your service, it’s in two weeks, and I have spent a lot of time working on it. It has readings, poems, and we’re playing Leonard Cohen and The Beatles, actually the choir, the one you used to sing with, will be performing Hallelujah and All You Need is Love. They said they would be honoured to sing for you. Honoured, I wonder what you would think about that. We’re doing two of my favourite prayers. To be honest I don’t know what you would think of the whole thing. I finished the first draft of your eulogy, I’ve never written one of those, but I’d never written an obituary either, and I think your’s turned out alright.

When I went through your clothes that first week, the week we went through and cleaned and organized your apartment, I mainly thought of ones for Graham, so he could have something of yours. I thought about taking a box of your books for him too, but then didn’t. You two had so much in common, but he walked out of his treatment centre 3 days ago and we don’t know where he is now, so I’m back to looking at the pile of clothes, and I’m still don’t know what I will do with them.

I sit here, healthy, safe and warm, and you’re gone, you’re not even a body anymore, you’re ashes siting in a container somewhere, I don’t even know where. They gave mom your glasses and your watch. That’s what she has, your glasses and your watch. I can’t begin to know how that feels. Did they put them in a special box with gold lettering? A velvet bag? Or did they just shove them in a brown envelope? Does that help? I don’t think it would. I think it would equally excruciating to receive the items from your child’s body no matter how they were presented to you.

You broke my heart, Johnny, you broke all of our hearts, and I let you die. I let you die alone. I let my son become homeless, and I sit in my house and feel sorry. I feel sorry, and sad, and tired, really, really tired. Somehow that seems wholly inadequate. It seems there should be larger consequence for not saving you, or Graham, or even dad.

There is more, obviously. You can’t tell by looking at me, or by talking to me, most of the time anyhow. On the outside I look and sound pretty much the same. I’m not. I’m unmoored, I am no longer somebody’s sister, I no longer have a brother, and you were it, my only sibling. It’s just me now, and that feels unnatural. All our private jokes, our code words, things that only we talked about and knew, all those things are gone, and what’s left is just space.

This was not how all of this was suppose to turn out. We were going to be great. We had grand plans. Happy lives mapped out. Lives with spouses, and happy children, successful careers, and somehow bits of that got lost.

I have to stop now. I have to find a place to put your clothes, and I have to go back to the actions that make up my life now.

I found this poem for you. I think maybe you would have made fun of it, but you don’t get to speak for yourself anymore, so here it is.

What the Living Do
Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Goodnight Johnny. I love you.

“I just sit by and let you fight your secret war”

meanwhile, when you were focused on back to school, this happened

So This happened today.

The Heroin Crisis Act Unanimously Passes Through Illinois House

A friend from one of my online support groups summed it up beautifully “Today was epic! Illinois legislators passed House Bill 1, the Heroin Crisis Bill that opens up treatment options for ALL who suffer from the disease of addiction. You no longer have to be wealthy, or have “the right kind of insurance”…all you have to do is want to get into recovery, and a way will be found.”

Alex Colville,  Horse and Train,

Alex Colville, Horse and Train,

People have died. Way too many people have died, are dying now, and will die from this disease.

I don’t mean to be unkind, really I don’t, but there are days when reading about how hard it is to have your well, well and alive, well and alive, and thriving, child away at college and how much you miss them, and all the money you have to spend on their phones, books, cars, rent and so on, there are days I just can’t read your Facebook posts, or look at pictures of your kids’ dorm room, college campus, and/or sports team. Today is one of those days. Today I am missing my son, not because he is away at college and spending too much money, but because he is away in treatment half  a country away. He’s been away for over 15 months, without holiday weekends visits, or summer or Christmas  at home. I haven’t seen him since December, his sisters since last June.

And I know there are people reading this who would give anything to have their child safe and in treatment, anything just to have their child alive again.

We are very, very lucky. We had the “right” insurance, sort of. More accurately, we had insurance and the time, and the physical and mental tenacity to fight, to fight over and over and over again, for coverage that was constantly denied. I can’t even think about the money still owed.

So yeah, today was important. I am hopeful. I am precariously optimistic that things could get better, that fewer families will watch their loved ones die from lack of adequate treatment. I am also tired, and feel like my skin is way too thin, and stretched way too tight, and feel like I have no defenses left, no protection from the emotions this stirs up. Oh, and I hate this disease, I hate how it decimated my family, my son, but also my father and my brother, and all who love and who loved them.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got tonight. No pithy wisdom, no sage acceptance or quotes about letting go and letting god. Just straight up tired, Maybe tomorrow I’ll be wise.

old poems

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Over 9 years ago I stopped drinking. It’s not something I advertise, but it’s not something I actively try to hide either. The disease runs in my family. I am alive, and on most days well, only because I found a way to stop.

I used to write poetry. I used to write quite a lot of poetry, and today for many reasons I dusted off writing from around 10 years ago, from one of the most difficult times of my life. If there was a way I could take what I’ve learned, box it up and give to people I love I would do it. I can’t. I can only pray and hope, and continue to take care of my own sobriety. Someone told me when you quit drinking you feel better, you feel pain better, joy, love, sorrow, you feel everything that you had been drinking not to feel. It can be overwhelming. Most of the poems are about that, about feeling better.

I don’t know why I moved away from poetry, and started using more words to write blog posts instead. Poetry is much harder, maybe that’s why.

Here are some, in no relevant order, because organization of anything creative still is challenging for me. Most are free verse, a few are cinquains, one of the very few forms of poetry I had any proficiency with.

blackness

a diving spotted loon
to which the surging waves arouse no wonder,
a soaring mateless seagull beneath
grave misting clouds,
a pair of blackest crows
in deliberate and dark discourse,
and the early morning chorus of birds
I have not met,
here are my early morning companions

this morning,
my last morning here.

and this I ponder wrapped in heavy woolen
drinking strong coffee
made stronger still with Jamison’s

I ponder these birds
the burden of their sky
the profundity of their black waves
their universal harmony

and when the drizzle mixes with the rising surge
the loon dives again and does not return for me
the crows take their argument to distant trees
and the seagull glides so low under
the weeping
clouds – I cannot breathe to watch

I am alone
with their water and thoughtful stones
the unspoken rain
and within my silence
with the blunt smell of cold
and the raw touch of
grey horizon light

in the untraveled blackened depths
under which
I will always lie.

fish hooks

Sober,
I have not known this face
reborn in palest newborn skin
translucent, and
tissue thin
all my nerves unclothed
disgraced, at their own nakedness

I do not know how to use these hands

a flesh of weeping grief
from savage shredded tracks
the tiny fish hooks sliced
and pierced
with their
sharpened razor points

of grief and joy and hate and fear of love
and of despair

I have never heard my voice
still they dig
minute barbs grasping
my unprotected soul
wrenching out my
heart
for all to see
tearing open my
eyes
so I must look

at the person I do not know.

river

Has there always been such green
all and each
so richly saturated
with this chromatic life,
these leaves, spirits within living stories,
twisting over
and around
and in between
each and one another
in their lilting seduction of
wind and sun?

did they do this yesterday?
did they flicker in this coquettish glee
inside my footfalls
sun tickling tenderly
each surface – so thoughtfully webbed-
while in their turn they reached
to lick the honeyed beams
along this muddied path
to water’s edge.
I walk to sense the flowing strength
flirting within twinkling beams
and to caress,
between reflective ripples,
smooth slippery stones
filled with energy.
will there always be
such life?

ecstasy

I would let go
but for the colour.
still,

I like to sneak to the edge
and dig my fingernails into stone
and ponder
the relief of falling
the ecstasy in shattering bones, the
liberation of seeping blood. but

when I crawl back
it is for the shade
of your tears.

unforgiven

who do I imagine I am?
breath?
thought?

in a place
where ten year old
bulldozers tear down
one hundred year old trees
in this place where
house sized wood chippers
vomit green onto
clear cut ground

bare foot in the grass
the rain will not
baptize me

my finger waits
for the drop that
could forgive me.

bones

far away
I am this night
as blackness swallows day
sweet, my grief
rests in the folding
black from bloodless red,
lay my bones,
my lonely love
lay my bones
and heart of clay

silences

I have not
always shown
me, as I am.
not in open, worn
these ragged
clothes.
let sun and rain
peel away my
raw, and
bloodied flesh.
and so,
I sometimes pause,
to wonder
at the silences.​

for you

for you
I would wrench
thunderclouds from rapture
accept their jagged burning rage
weep till there is no rain
and scream out all your agony
until my heart disintegrates
in thunder

for you
I would dry dew’s tears
from each and every
green and glistened blade

for you
I am salt
and I whisper
through your hands

crying

I cry for what I cannot save

for the dying roadside bird
bloodied under blackened wheels

for the frightened child
held down
learning how a secret’s kept

I cry for
young veins punctured
with poisoned needles

I cry for pain
I feel screaming inside you
that fills all of me
that I cannot take away

for the sickness
that I comfort
but cannot heal

I cry for all that’s broken
that I cannot fix

and some days
I cry
for me.

cold sleep

no stars
weep abandon
as our discarded die
disappeared in foul rooms, cold tears
dried wine.

claws

fear strolls
on soft bear’s paws
hushed growling, calmly tastes
decides – and stretching sharpest claws
carves me.

cut me

I hate
the sky’s fading
touch – etched within my heart
take the words from me – cut them all
away

him

there was a time
he could not
release me

that was
before

now his
ever restless feet
carry him away

a broken toy
stepped on, crumbled – yet
walking still
a stranger
that I tried to stand before

uncovered
as only myself
a broken, walking doll

he is
not a boy, but
a man, terrified of the ghosts
in my eyes
of the unsayable
that slices through my rooms

he is close
and he is untouchable

in a way
that cuts through me

alone with his beauty
his pain
his cruelty
his anger, and
his love

an embrace unfelt
laid cold
upon my soul.

Like I said, I used to write poems. There are more here.

not my first rodeo

IMG_7450This is not my first rodeo.

Not the first time I’ve received this call. Not the second, third, or fourth time either. I don’t know what number I’m on. Not the first psych hospital I’ve dealt with. Not the first time we’ve talked about suicide.

I do know there is always that part of me that exhales at the sensation of the sky finally falling. The, Ah, there it is! sensation that you couldn’t quite put your finger on until the phone call.  It’s not that I think about it all the time, I don’t, it’s just always there, hanging over me, just hanging around in the background, waiting. One moment it’s clear blue, and then the sun disappears, and purple-black clouds fill the sky, my skin gets cold, the wind picks up and I realize that they were always just at the edge of my vision, waiting. For what? It’s hard to say. Hope? For me to say “he’s doing well” a certain number of times, and to start to believe it?

The shift in me starts with the caller ID, I start to feel cold, to watch the sun disappear. As details and events become confirmed (confirmed, because part of me is always waiting for this call) I become still, focused, logical, organized, and pragmatic.I do what needs to be done. I call people, I email, I research, I take notes, lots of notes, notebooks full of names, places, numbers and details. I go through the check list, he’s alive, check, he’s safe, check, will he remain so long enough for me to sleep tonight?

I’m tired. Just really tired. Maybe repeated combinations of sad, afraid, anxious, pessimistic and optimistic eventually just register as tired. I do bits of the Kübler-Ross tango, but more quickly and with less intensity than before. Really I’m just tired. And no, generally I don’t want to talk about it.

Over the years we’ve let a lot of things go. When you talk about your kids and their accomplishments, their dreams and hopes I generally stay quiet. What could I possibly add? That our successes are measured on a much smaller scale. Is he alive? Is he safe? Does he have times where he feels happy? School, grades, girlfriends, cars, jobs, these are things that fell away.

What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage

– excerpt from Canto LXXXI by Ezra Pound

And so it is.

it’s got nothing to do with a better rat cage

nugget

So a friend posted this, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think. 

I read it, a few times, and while it is not completely without merit and makes some valid points, it is an oversimplification of a complex disease, and ultimately draws conclusions and makes generalizations from limited data.

I completely agree that the way we treat addicts, that the ‘war on drugs’ only contributes to the problem.  Criminalization and incarceration simply do not work. I do not agree that simply by making a better rat cage we can prevent or treat drug addiction.

The “Rat Cage” experiment was this. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself. The conclusion was that once exposed to the drug the rat became addicted and then ultimately died from the addiction. There are different versions of this test, another, perhaps more relevant, experiment involved direct stimulation of the rat’s pleasure center in the brain when the rat pressed a bar. Here the rat would neglect  activities such as eating or drinking to press the bar, and ultimately died.

soa_007_big

Addiction is caused by a combination of several things that basically can be divided into three categories, drug use, stress, and genetics. It is a combination of these three things that will  cause addiction. This is why some people can use without becoming addicted (no genetics, and/or little stress), and why some become addicted with only a small amount of use (strong genetic component, high stress).

Addiction happens when the combination of these factors trigger a reaction in the brain that causes a shift in neurotransmitter activity.

Don’t believe me? Watch This  

Back to the article. They made a nicer rat cage, with rat balls, rat toys, other rats and the rats in there didn’t want the drugs anymore. Interesting right? Then they correlated this with Vietnam soldiers who used heroin and came home and didn’t need it anymore. In other words they left the lonely rat cage for the nicer one and the need for drugs went away. The point the author keeps coming back to is that drugs don’t hijack the brain and cause addiction, that disconnection does, and here is where I have the problem.  Addiction changes the brains neurochemistry, addiction in the form of alcohol, drugs, or behaviours such as gambling, food, or sex. It is when this shift happens addiction occurs.

The danger of articles like this is that the implication is that if only you had a better rat cage your loved one would not have become addicted. If there had been connection, beauty, and nice rat toys addiction would not have happened. That is the family’s fault that addiction happened, if only they had done a better job. If only. 

If only. Words that have echoed through my head for the last five years. If only I had done more, done things better. If only I had done this or that, or not done this or that. If only breaks your heart. Articles like this make me angry, because my son had a fantastic fucking rat cage, and he still became an addict. He had support, he had early, early intervention (in grade school through high school), he had mentors, social peer groups, doctors, a family that loved and supported him, and he still became an addict.

And yes, we did make him leave our home, I let my own son live on the streets and in homeless shelters, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped loving him. I wrote about that here and here and here and here and so many more times.

The rat cage, the sad empty one that makes the rats want the drugs, that’s not an addict’s home life, that’s an addicts thinking.

The rat cage is their thinking.

There is no easy fix for someone’s thinking. It’s hard, heartbreaking work, and sometimes to be able to do this work, you have to get to a very bad place so you are motivated enough to want to change. I know this because I have done the work, I have been to that dark cold place inside me and I have crawled out of it.

We need to stop blaming the victim, blaming the family, they have been through a hell that you cannot imagine, and to say that addiction happened because of a lonely rat cage is unacceptable, short sighted and heartless.

And yes, I am angry. I’m angry that there are people who care more about how this makes them look than about helping people who need it.  That people who should  be a foundation of support, are defensive and outraged that I would even have this conversation. That people would rather be angry with me than examine why I keep talking about this.

Micheal Lee comes as close to showing what this has been like for me as a person in long term recovery, and what is like to love someone suffering from addiction. He does it in 2 minutes. I have been talking for years and it still seems like no one really hears me.

one more, if you want to see a simple, but very clear representation of addiction

Hope

wpid-20150312_111347_1.jpgThey do not have Congratulations on Your Continued Recovery cards, or at least they don’t have them at Walgreen’s, which is where I go to get items for his care package. I’ve already sent him granola bars, almonds, and a new book from Amazon, but I have to go to Walgreen’s to get cigarettes, cigarettes, some car magazines, a bit of chocolate, and a card. I have a system, first at Walgreen’s painstakingly explaining the cigarettes are not for me, and later at home as I pack and label his bi-monthly box with trinkets and necessities so he knows he’s not forgotten and is still loved. I cry a little each time, sometimes I cry more than a little, sometimes I keep the tears in my eyes all day without them ever falling down my cheeks. My chest feels tight, and I am drawn back into the place where hope and fear co-mingle whenever I stop my busy mind and think just of him.

Today it really feels like Spring, and as I carry my reusable shopping bag of cigarettes (because cigarettes or not, I’m still me) into the house, I stop to look at my garden. My front garden has gone from snow to mud in a week, and for days I have been crawling in this mud looking for the first signs of life. Today the  daffodils are breaking through the ground. Today I found the first buds of the Lenton Rose under the snow. Today my dog tore through the yard unimpinged by snow, and sent clumps of mud flying in his joyous wake, and today, I stood and listened to the cardinal I’ve named Oberon sing from the still bare maple tree. Today Spring is here. Today you can hear hope in the air, see it the mud, and for moments I feel it in my chest.

wpid-20150312_111708_1.jpgIn the cycle of nature there is no such thing as victory or defeat; there is only movement.”
Paulo Coelho,

There is no such thing as victory or defeat; there is only movement, and so we keep moving. As long as there is life, there is hope, and today there is life, today there is hope.

There have been other Springs, other hopes, some have lived, many died, but I’ll hold these little bits of it close, at least for today, and maybe when I’m mailing his package this afternoon there won’t be as many tears floating in my eyes, or maybe there’ll be more, but they’ll be the good kind of tears, maybe.

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hindsight

I likely shouldn’t be writing this, I’m tired, am nursing a migraine, and am not wearing my glasses; god knows what spelling mistakes and poor choice wording options I will make, but here I go, because it’s been too long since I’ve put words to a page or screen. Last night was the senior class party at the high school. My youngest, much to my surprise, is a senior this year so I, being the plucky parent I am “volunteered” (it was “mandatory”) to set up on Friday, and work part of the evening Saturday. It’s a big, fat, hairy deal. Twenty three different themed rooms, food, food, food, blaring music, and of course 700ish teenagers making their way through the whole thing. From my spot, in the pool hall (yes we had pool tables, and hoops, and foosball – I told you, it was a big deal) I watched various groups of kids swarm in, out and about. For a while it was really interesting, seeing kids that I had first seen in grade 1, now with facial hair and/or makeup and a bit of swagger. For moments it was poignant, the kids who had self injury scars that showed just below their T-shirts, the kids that were obvious trying really hard to fit in, and for a while it was painful, when I would see that kid who reminded me of Graham. That smiling, awkward kid, with the baggy pants, the baseball cap, and the bit of over the top swagger and laugh that may have been a cover. When I would see that kid, my heart broke a little. Graham was too messed up to go to his senior party, I can’t remember the particulars, but it was not even a consideration.  Ironically, (maybe there’s a better word), he called me while I was there. And then I came across this video on Facebook this morning, and it did me in What started Graham down his troubled path, was kids hitting him up at school for his ADHD drugs. He had problems fitting in for years and years, and only recently I found out how badly he was bullied on the school bus, but selling his ADHD meds was the way he found to fit in, to not be that outcast, to make “friends”.  If you read this blog, you know where this lead him. So the video. In the video I saw all the places I could have done more, should have known sooner, should have tried harder, defended him more, but truth be told, I really had no idea really, what he was going through. Hindsight. He is doing better than ever now. Nine months clean and sober, and the meds he takes seem to have brought the unbearable mental battleground in his head under control, but it’s a long hard road. He recently was bullied at the place he stays, and put up with it for way too long, told no one, because that’s the only way he had learned to deal with it. Thankfully it was addressed, the aggressor removed and Graham is now being taught how to advocate for himself, five (at least) hell filled years after he was first bullied in school. When they told me about it, I wanted to say, hey, I really tried to teach him that, really. I did, and I had counselors, countless social workers, guidance counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, life coaches, tutors, addiction therapists, group therapists, martial arts instructors, peer groups, even a neuro-psychiatrist to help me, but it was not enough. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t that parent who buried their head in the sand, that I tried with everything I had to help him. That the times I sent him out and let him live homeless ripped out a piece of my heart that will not heal. That I look into the eyes of every homeless person I see so I can see what my son endured. That I read every day about the deaths, and the agonies that addicts and their families endure and remember what it was like, and feel so very, very lucky that my son is still alive. I wanted to say all of this, but I let it go, and talked about where he is now, but it still sits in my head, and in my heart. What could I have done better? differently? What did I do that made it worse? Could I have prevented this? I know the answer. No., I could not have prevented it. I know this in my head. I know I am far more fortunate than so many of the families I still am in contact with. I know this.  My heart still hurts when I see these wounded kids. I know I’ve put this up before, but if you have the time, it’s worth watching again

there goes my hero

Graham 2

“There goes my hero, … Foo Fighters

“The mind of an addict is cunning enough to convince the body that it is not dying” – Michael Lee

The mind of the addict.

Sometimes I miss him so much it is physically painful. It comes when I am thinking of other things, and then it hits, and I can’t imagine how I could ever not be thinking about him. Like tonight when I was shopping at Walgreen’s and I remember the time I took him shopping for basics while he was living at the homeless shelter. I wrote about that here.

He is on Step 4. Three and a half years into this hell, and he made it to Step 4. I talked to him last week and I actually heard my son, not the addict, not the mental illness, but my son, my beautiful, funny, loving boy, I talked to him. He is working so hard, so very hard. He is clean and he is sober (four months now), but the psychosis is hanging on with a tenacity that has not let up, not even for a moment. Until now he could not cope with it without drugs.Without finding someway to escape the voices in his head, voices caused by biochemical imbalances in his brain. He is coping with the chemical imbalances in his brain chemistry clean and sober, that alone is heroic. But it is not enough yet.

If the biochemical imbalances manifested themselves as cancer, or organ malfunction in his body this would be an entirely different story I’d be writing. People would see the battles he’s faced. As heartbreaking as Robin William’s death was, it put a real face to how deadly mental illness can be, and he (Robin Williams) did everything he was suppose to, he was clean and sober, he took his medication, he saw a psychiatrist, and it still killed him. People don’t want to believe that mental illness is as debilitating as physical illness. It’s so much easier to stigmatize someone with a mental illness, so much safer, so you can find reasons why it could never happen to you, or people you love.  In a Mental Health First Aid class I recently took I learned that severe depression is as debilitating as quadriplegia – as quadriplegia. No one told Christopher Reeves to suck it up, and just get over being paralysed. He was seen as a hero for coping with such an overwhelming disability with grace and courage.  Robin Williams was no less a hero. People who overcome addictions and other mental illnesses are as deserving of the praise, love and support we give to cancer survivors. People in recovery need as much love and support as those undergoing major medical treatments. All are heros.

When we talked I told him how proud I was of him, and encouraged him to keep moving forward. He still has so much to overcome, so much work to do, and there are no guarantees that he will ever be well.

A friend of mine sent me this article. I am that quiet mom who doesn’t say much when people brag about the accomplishments of their teenage and young adult children. My son is never going to Princeton, he will not go to graduate school, he is likely not going to do most of the things I hear other parents bragging about, he may never be able to live independently. But he IS clean, and he IS sober, and he is working as hard as any honour roll student, as hard has any top athlete, and I am just as proud as other parents whose kids are in Princeton, on Varsity teams, whose kids are doing wonderful, exciting and accomplished things. I just don’t talk to many people about it.

He is using the support network he has to deal with the terrifying psychotic episodes directly. He is taking his meds. He is doing everything he is suppose to do. He is trying so hard, and it still holds him by the throat. He is on his umptenth medication combination to help his mind become more balanced, and stable enough so he can continue to recover. It may not be enough. He had to leave the wonderful place he had been staying in for the last 2 months and  in to go back into a “higher level of care” to get his medications and episodes stabilized.  I haven’t heard from him, or anyone since the transfer last week.

I look at the sky, and try to decide if this is colour it turns in the moments before it falls. (modified from Shane Koyczan’s To This Day Poem).

I don’t know how this turns out. I don’t know if he will get well. I don’t know if I will ever see my beautiful boy again, or if this disease will take him from me completely.

So sometimes when I am doing other things all this comes rushing back to me. The last few years that when I look back on them, I cannot imagine how we lived through them.

Michael Lee is a performance poet and a recovering addict and alcoholic. I listen to this poem a lot.

I miss my son. I pray that this is not the colour the sky turns in the moments before it falls.

dear john

dear john,

today I wanted to carve the words
carve them into my skin, so
all could see
what I am

when we spoke, had you asked, I might have told of the holes – I carve – inside, maybe you could have seen the ardent slice ripped out, to quietly lay at your deeply restless feet. but all it touched was your breath, passing backwards in your constant cool drifting words.

had you understood my voice –
could you have heard?
known my songs are all written for you?

before I left
did I tell you
of bloodstained views on wood grain hall floors – knee in my back, fists gripping long hair, of the stripes of our walls getting closer just before they turned black.
or was it you who told me
of the view from mum’s hand standing in doorways –
watching,

blocking escape.

dear john,

should I have warned you? of trusting too young, and of pain, and fear, and of blood, sometimes first – and of tears locked in rooms, could this have saved you?

I would have saved you – you know, taken your blows, swallowed your bitter bruises, your raw pain, and sent you away whole – if only I’d found you.

dear john,

even now that you’re here,
I’ve lost parts of you.
and no longer can I wrap you in blankets.
I can’t find your song or your bruises. so I keep carving these slices off me to make us both whole, but your restless feet walk by them with your words always drifting backward at me.

dear john,

today I wanted to carve the words
into my skin
so all could see
what I am.

It’s four o’clock in the morning, Damn it*

stl0006_20010216At four o’clock this morning I’d been asleep for 5 hours.

Today I took him to the airport.

Four nights ago I drove him to the hospital with an empty bottle in my pocket. Four nights ago I was already in my pajamas and wanted only to go to bed and to sleep, when he showed me what he’d taken. Four nights ago he said he reached his bottom and was ready to recover, but that’s not why I took him to the hospital.

I was not sitting in the ER once again, with my son hooked up to monitors because of the street drugs he had been relapsing on for weeks.  I wasn’t there because of the altered state he went into the previous week during his birthday dinner, in the nice restaurant, surrounded by nice families. The altered state that was caused because he had stopped taking his prescribed medicine two weeks ago. I was in the ER because of cough syrup. Cough syrup he’d been drinking by the bottle, cough syrup that contained Tylenol. I took him to the hospital when I realized he’d been taking massive doses of Tylenol unintentionally with the cough syrup,  because a Tylenol overdose doesn’t kill you right away, it kills your liver and your kidneys first, and it does it slowly.

So I sat there, dead tired, not because of heroin, or cocaine, but because of Tylenol. I sat there while a nurse roughly scrubbed down his arm and called him “dirty”, while she told him was going to die, while she rammed an IV needle in his arm, intentionally causing him pain. He bore it quietly. Her harsh words and her painful treatment of him. I bore it too, even while a part of brain was saying how wrong it was.

They keep the curtains open in cases of overdose, they also take all your clothing and belongings to make sure you don’t try to sneak out before your mental health is properly assessed.

This boy. This boy that the angry nurse purposely hurt. This boy used to bring me dandelion bouquets, used to sit for hours on my lap while I read him story after story, this boy who always tried so hard to fit in. This beautiful boy was still there in the hospital bed, with the sore arm, with all his belongings taken away. My little boy, who I could still occasionally glimpse in a gesture, in an expression, he was still in there.My boy, who’s brain chemistry has worked against him for the last ten years was still there, still trying. He has been fighting against a mind that contains beasts and horrors and realities only he can see. A mind, that when he became overwhelmed with its noise, he tried to quiet with drugs, and they worked. The drugs settled his mind, the drugs helped him make friends, let him feel like he belonged and was accepted. How can you blame him? He was 15, and his brain worked in ways that none of us could comprehend.

I saw that he was in pain, and I tried to fix it. I tried everything I could think of, sports, clubs, mentors, social workers, doctors, life coaches, tutors, psychiatrists, psychologists, peer groups, retreats, camps. I tried, but none of these worked as well as drugs and so the drugs won. I lost my boy by degrees, and he became the kind of patient a nurse thinks it’s okay to shame and to hurt. He became someone I didn’t know anymore. He became the young man in the hospital bed before me.

I stayed till 3:30am. I stayed while another mental health assessment was done. I stayed till I knew he would be safe and survive the night, and then I went home. It was 4am when I pulled into my driveway, when I slowly got out of my car and started walking through garden to my front door. It was 4am when I noticed the songs of the night birds, and while I’d would have rather have done anything but spend a night in hospital with my drug addled son, the bird songs, an owl hoot, and my dog waiting up for me were comforting.

He was in hospital for four days. Four days that I spent negotiating with insurance, four days trying to find him something, someone, somewhere to help him. Four days crying in my car where no one could see me, four days asking for help, four days not sleeping or eating enough, and this morning I drove him to the airport.

Today he flew across the country to a residential treatment center in California called Michael’s House. He says it’s incredibly beautiful there. They’ve taken his phone now, and I won’t be able to talk to him for 7 days, but he seemed hopeful and happy tonight, so I will hold on to that.

 *Lyrics by Bernie Taupin from “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”